Together in Christ: Lutherans & Catholics Commemorate the Reformation

As both Lutherans and Roman Catholics, and perhaps some of the other denominations of Christendom celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, there are several events and projects that have been undertaken, and/or will come into fruition. Below is the first introductory video by Lutheran pastor and professor, the Rev. Dr. Matthew Anderson. The series of videos are titled: “Together in Christ: Lutherans and Catholics Commemorate the Reformation, 2017.

Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation in Lund Cathedral, Sweden

This ecumenical service on Reformation Day, October 31, 2016, kicking off the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation is a significant historical moment in the long journey toward Christian unity among Lutherans and Roman Catholics. I believe it is the first time ever that a Catholic pope attended a Reformation Day celebration in a Lutheran Cathedral. We have come a long way since the pre-Vatican II days, which celebrated the divisions rather than what unites us as Lutheran and Catholic Christians. With 50 years of Lutheran-Catholic dialogues behind us, the Holy Spirit seems to be hard at work among us. One of the questions facing us is: Where is the Spirit leading us from here, and are we willing to go there?

Ash Wednesday

AshWednesdayCrossYesterday, Ash Wednesday, marked the beginning of the season of Lent. I participated in an ecumenical service last evening. I was designated to explain the meaning of the ashes and do the imposition of ashes on the clergy, as well as help administer the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It was a wonderful service held at the local Anglican church, with clergy representing the Anglican, Church of God, Lutheran, United, and Ukrainian Catholic churches.

In dialogue with the Ukrainian Catholic priest prior to the service, I learned a couple of things that surprised me. First, they do not use ashes in their Ash Wednesday services—for them Lent actually begins on Monday two days prior to Ash Wednesday. Second, the colour for Lent in their tradition is not purple, but red, since the latter is regarded by them as a penitential colour.

Ashes in the Western churches are important, since they symbolize our mortality, as well as combined with sackcloth, were associated with repentance in biblical times.

We were blessed and privileged to hear God’s Word read and proclaimed and all baptised Christians were welcome to partake of the Lord’s Supper.

The Anglican priest lead us in the beautiful Ash Wednesday penitential liturgy and he, along with two other clergy—one Lutheran, one Anglican, a visible sign of our full communion—were co-presiders at the Lord’s Table. The Church of God pastor began with an opening introduction, highlighting God’s mercy, and sharing information on a Canadian Food Grains project which our community supports. The United Church minister led us in the offertory prayer. The Ukrainian Catholic priest offered the closing benediction.

It was a very moving and humbling experience to have been there and help with administering the sacrament. It was also a small sign of the unity of Christ’s Body expressed in the rich diversity of our respective denominations.

As the World Council of Churches emphasized years ago, “doctrine divides, service unites,” so in our community, we joined together contributing our offering to the Canadian Food Grains Bank in service of those in need.

We left the worship service in silence; recipients of God’s mercy and grace, and given new opportunities to share the love of Jesus in thought, word and deed with those in need in our community and around the globe.

Today the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins

Today, January 18, marks the beginning of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In North America, it always begins on this date, when we celebrate the Confession of Peter, and the week ends on January 25 when we celebrate the Conversion of Paul. In between, on January 20, we remember the twentieth century martyr, Martin Luther King Jr.

This year’s theme is titled: “Is Christ divided?” It is based on 1 Corinthians 1:1-17, the apostle Paul’s appeal to the church at Corinth struggling with divisions. In his appeal, Paul urges the church to live in koinonia-translated into English as fellowship, but also can mean community/communion, and refer to a sense of unity. Of course for Paul, and for all Christians, unity is God’s gift of faithfulness vis-a-vis baptism and the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Our response and calling is to make visible unity a reality in the church and world; which is an ever and ongoing process under the leading of the Holy Spirit until such time as Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John chapter seventeen becomes a reality.

In the meantime, we take small steps of faith on the journey towards full unity. This year’s materials for Week of Prayer for Christian Unity have been prepared by a Canadian team comprised of participants from various denominations-sad to say, I don’t see any mention of Lutherans, and I wonder why? At any rate, if you follow this link to one of the pages on the World Council of Churches website, you will see a link there to a PDF document, click on it, and you can download it for either personal, parish or ecumenical services, prayers and devotions:

ON ANOTHER MATTER, PLEASE NOTE: I am continuing to evaluate whether or not I am going to keep this blog active or shut it down, which means, as I stated in the previous post, I shall likely be posting only sporadically.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2011

Today, January 18, marks the beginning of Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This year the theme is based on Acts 2:42f.: “One in the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer.”  The initial work leading to the publication of this booklet was done by a group of Christian leaders from Jerusalem. They gathered at the invitation of the World Council of Churches. Their work was facilitated by the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre. Unfortunately the city in which I live is not officially celebrating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, but in previous years, I have enjoyed organising ecumenical services with other clergy. You can read more about this year’s background, theme, and a daily devotion, order of service, etc., here.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Today, January 18, 2010 marks the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in the northern hemisphere nations. This year the theme is “You are witnesses of these things 2010,” based on Luke 24:48. It also marks the 100 anniversary of the World Mission Conference held in Edinburgh in 1910, which was one of the inspiring events of the early 20th century ecumenical movement.  

Do you participate personally in any Week of Prayer for Christian Unity event(s)? If so, would you share the information here?

Does your congregation/parish participate in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity? If so, would you share the information here?

Does your local ministerial association or other equivalent organisation participate in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity? If so, would you share the information here?

Here is a link to the World Council of Churches materials prepared for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

 God’s blessings as you and/or your faith community prays for Christian unity this week!

Bonhoeffer on the Incarnation

Bonhoeffer on the Incarnation

Opening up an old book, written by Lutheran theologian, pastor and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (p. 341), reminded me again of Jesus’ love for each one of us and his solidarity with humankind as the Incarnate One, and through him, our solidarity with the whole human race too—a rather countercultural perspective, given our very divided, hostile, war-driven, individualistic, consumer-oriented world.

And in the Incarnation the whole human race recovers the dignity of the image of God. Henceforth, any attack even on the least of men [and women] is an attack on Christ, who took the form of man, and in his own Person restored the image of God in all that bears a human form. Through fellowship and communion with the incarnate Lord, we recover our true humanity, and at the same time we are delivered from that individualism which is the consequence of sin, and retrieve our solidarity with the whole human race.

Sermon Reformation Sunday Yr A


Reformation Sunday Yr A, 26/10/2008

Ps 46

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta


“God’s Powerful Word”


On this Reformation Sunday, it’s appropriate to ask ourselves: Who or what is a Lutheran? According to Luther’s Small Dictionary, a Lutheran is defined as: Someone who lives Lent all year long.1 Then, according to another source: You know you are a steadfast Lutheran if: You wonder why Martin, as long as he had taken the time to write 95 theses, didn’t round it off to an even 100? Or you know perfectly well why there is no Lutheran Church named Good Works Lutheran. Then there is this one: You know you are a Norwegian Lutheran if: You won’t admit that Children of the Heavenly Father was written by a Swede and that Away in the Manger and A Mighty Fortress were written by Germans.2

In a more serious vein, Psalm 46 reminds us that: “God is our refuge (our fortress) and strength, a very present help (a well proved help) in trouble. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge (our fortress),” says the psalmist, along with ancient Israel with bedrock confidence. This psalm, of course, inspired reformer Martin Luther to write his most famous hymn. It also remains a source of inspiration for many today.


Some scholars believe that the historical background out of which Psalm 46 arose is found in 2 Chronicles 20, during the days of King Jehoshaphat. King Jehoshaphat of Judah was afraid that he and his kingdom would fall to the surrounding peoples of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir. So in fear and panic, he calls together the inhabitants of Judah in an assembly at Jerusalem, and the LORD reveals an oracle to Jahaziel, a descendent of the Levites; who reassures Jehoshaphat and the assembly that even though Judah is outnumbered and an inferior military power; nonetheless, they would win the battle, “for the battle is not yours but God’s.”  

So, the next day the choir of Judah and Jerusalem took their position on the front-line and began singing: “Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever.” And this confused the armies of the Ammonites, Moabites and Mount Seir; putting them in disarray; so that they turned against each other and killed one another; until there were no survivors; thus the LORD gave Jehoshaphat and Judah the victory.

I believe that it is most instructive for us to note how first it was the power of the word spoken to Jehoshaphat and the assembly; how that oracle from the LORD gave courage and confidence to God’s people in a time of fear and threatening destruction. Second, it was the power of the sung word of God by the choir on the battle front that totally caught Judah’s enemies off-guard, caused them to turn against themselves, and hence, bringing on their defeat and self-destruction. The psalmist also underscores the power of God’s word, particularly in verse 6, where, amidst all kinds of catastrophic events: “The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;” the LORD then “utters his voice, the earth melts.” The power of God’s word working in many and varied ways then is what saved the ancient Israelites, and, as we shall see, it saved Martin Luther in the sixteenth century, and it continues to save us today.

We Lutherans like to sing with vigour and enthusiasm, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which remains, among Martin Luther’s 37 hymns, the most favourite of them all. I don’t know how many of you realise this, but the hymn is based on, and inspired by the first verse of Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Little did Luther know that as time moved on from century to century up till today, his hymn would be translated into some 200 languages and sung by virtually every mainline Christian denomination, including Roman Catholics!

The hymn of course spread like wildfire in Germany and other Lutheran lands. Luther himself, along with his other reformer friends and colleagues, it is said, sang it daily–especially in times of trouble, temptation, and depression; to be lifted in spirit and be restored with new courage, faith and strength. The tune–EIN FESTE BURG–also composed by Luther, has inspired J.S. Bach’s famous tune of Cantata 80 “JESU JOY OF MAN’S DESIRING,” and Felix Mendelssohn’s “Fifth Symphony.” It also influenced Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera Les Huguenots and Alexander Glazunoff’s Finnish Fantasy.

For Luther himself, likely one of the–if not the–most important message(s) of the hymn is that for him, on numerous occasions, God was like A MIGHTY FORTRESS. Perhaps it was during his year that he spent in hiding at Wartburg Castle while he translated the New Testament into German that he found God on a much larger scale to be like that mighty fortress at Wartburg. Those thick protective walls of Wartburg Castle may have helped him feel safe and secure away from his military, political and ecclesiastical adversaries. Oftentimes Luther felt that everyone was against him–hence, it was solely by the protective and gracious God that he remained unharmed and safe, and was able to continue with his reforming work. For Luther, Jesus Christ himself being The Word of God Incarnate could accomplish ALL THINGS. Luther took great comfort in this and it was The Source of his strength and inspiration throughout his life.

Fast forwarding now to the present day, we too are able to be inspired, strengthened, and encouraged by God Our Almighty Fortress. I’m certain that if we all stopped to think about it; every one of us here today could recall at least one time—if not more—in our life when God has protected us from troubles, dangers and harm. God has been like a Strong Fortress for us too; whether we face physical, mental, spiritual or other dangers.

Maybe, like ancient Judah and like Martin Luther, we’ve had to face some overwhelming opponents and obstacles. We, like they, might feel we have precious little chance of overcoming or winning over such opponents and obstacles. Our own strength, skills, gifts and resources may seem next-to-nothing compared to those of others. Yet, we’re still here! God is good! God has given us exactly what we’ve needed at the right time. We have been protected, strengthened, encouraged, inspired—we’ve overcome and prevailed because “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The power of God’s word has worked in us and in our lives too. And so we worship the LORD our Mighty Fortress and serve him as did ancient Judah and Luther in gratitude for what he has done for us throughout our lives.

We, like ancient Judah, like Luther and the other reformers, can continue to live confidently and secure—trusting and knowing that “One little word subdues” the devil and all evil powers, that Word is Christ. The power of God’s word is very much alive and active; bringing healing to the sick, hope to the hopeless, faith to the doubter, love to us all. Jesus Christ is the ultimate victor. Praise God our Mighty Fortress for that! Amen.

1 Janet Letnes Martin & Suzann Johnson Nelson, Luther’s Small Dictionary: From Aal to Zululand (Hastings, MN: Caragana Press, 1999), p. 124.

2 Janet Letnes Martin & Suzann Johnson Nelson, You Know You Are A Lutheran If… (Hastings, MN: Caragana Press, 2002), pp. 10-12, pp. 130-131.





Canada Day 2008 Sermon

Canada Day, July 1, 2008

Isa 32:1-5, 16-18

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Ecumenical Canada Day Celebration Service

Kin Coulee Park, Medicine Hat


Today we celebrate the 141 birthday of our nation, Canada. Happy birthday Canada! And many more! May God continue to bless and keep this land glorious and free. As we celebrate Canada Day, we Canadians are often prone to wax eloquently about our nation and, in particular our national identity—or shall I say lack thereof? Like, for example, the following famous anonymous quote filled with humour and an irony that may make us laugh or cry: “What is a Canadian? A Canadian is someone wearing English tweeds, a Hong Kong shirt and Spanish shoes, who sips Brazilian coffee sweetened with Philippine sugar from a Bavarian cup while nibbling Swiss cheese, sitting at a Danish desk over a Persian rug, after coming home in a German car from an Italian movie…and then writes their Member of Parliament with a Japanese ballpoint pen on French paper, demanding that he or she do something about foreigners taking away our Canadian jobs.”

In a more sober and perhaps sceptical vein, writing back in 1990, University of Lethbridge sociologist, Reginald Bibby, in his Mosaic Madness: The Poverty and Potential of Life in Canada, begged the following question: “In Canada, the time has come to address a centrally important question. If what we have in common is our diversity, do we really have anything in common at all?” I’m certain that each of us here today likely has a different answer to Bibby’s question—those differences both define us as well as paradoxically unite us. We are a nation, actually modelled after, either by accident or God’s providence, the earliest Christian Church wherein the most profound theologian, the apostle Paul, describes the Church as the Body of Christ and points to the Church’s identity as unity in diversity and diversity in unity. Yet, as a nation, and as Christians living in this nation Canada, that does not mean we do not struggle with this model of identity. I think this is a never ending struggle, because we all as limited, finite, sinful human beings build walls, and limits to narrowly define ourselves with and live under that which nurtures our comfort zones. In short, we all struggle with such questions as: Ought there be limits to our pluralism? If so, what ought those limits be and how shall we live within them? How can limits within as diverse a nation as ours serve us while, at the same time, respecting and protecting a just and peaceful nation for all of our citizens? Such questions we and future generations shall continue to face.

Yet, on this Canada Day, there is much to be celebrated as a nation. It was Sir Winston Churchill who once said: “There are no limits to the majestic future which lies before the mighty expanse of Canada with its verile, aspiring, cultured, and generous-hearted people.” And recently, former U.S. President Bill Clinton stated: “In a world darkened by ethnic conflicts that tear nations apart, Canada stands as a model of how people of different cultures can live and work together in peace, prosperity, and mutual respect.” Then there was former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who observed that: “We peer so suspiciously at each other that we cannot see that we Canadians are standing on the mountaintop of human wealth, freedom and privilege.” Yet, as Marshall McLuhan I believe correctly observed: “Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity.” Most likely that is our weakness and, paradoxically, our strength.

In today’s first reading from Isaiah 32, we are given a wonderful vision of an ideal king, who, assisted by other wise leaders, rule with a divine vision of righteousness, which in the Bible means: right relationships between God and people, people with each other, and people with God’s creation and living in a state of trust, relying on God’s life-giving promises. This righteousness is also closely connected with justice and peace. I love the Book of Isaiah; it is so prolific in its beatific vision of righteousness, justice and peace. In this particular passage, the prophet speaks of righteousness, justice and peace by comparing them with the natural world. Here we have pictures of righteousness, justice and peace as: a shelter from high winds; providing safe cover in stormy weather; like streams of water in a dry place; as the shade of a great rock in a weary land—which, you may recall, we sing in the old familiar hymn, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.” A blessing of righteousness, justice and peace opens eyes to see and ears to hear, which is the reversal of people who rebel against God and have blind eyes and deaf ears. Then too, says the prophet, there will be another kind of reversal: the impulsive will be able to make sound decisions, and the tongue-tied will speak with eloquence. God’s blessing upon his people with righteousness, justice and peace shall enable them to be very wise and discerning—seeing and understanding things for what they really are. Thus fools shall not be popular nor crooks be rewarded with fame. According to the prophet, true, God-given righteousness, justice and peace are most productive, they shall be present in the wilderness as well as in the fertile field; and true peace, God’s shalom, shall be more than the absence of war; people shall live quietly, safely, and in endless trust. Such is the vision of the ideal government and the perfect, peaceful, just and righteous nation.

In comparison, our nation, its leaders and people haven’t done too badly, although there is still a long way to go to reach this biblical vision—as the weakest and poorest Canadians are still too often neglected and forgotten. As finite creatures, we are not perfect, therefore we shall always continue to strive for such an ideal society and leaders. As theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once said: “Humanity’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but humanity’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” If we become too indifferent and apathetic towards our democratic nation; we are in danger of losing it.

As people of faith, I encourage you to remember that you are created in the image of God and therefore you can and do make a difference in this wonderful nation of ours and in the wider world. I would like to leave you with a quote from Holocaust survivor and author, Elie Wiesel, from his book, From The Kingdom Of Memory: Reminiscences: “There is so much to be done, there is so much that can be done. One person—a Raoul Wallenberg, an Albert Schweitzer, a Martin Luther King, Jr.—one person of integrity can make a difference, a difference of life and death.” May God grant us grace to live with this kind of integrity. Amen.


Sermon 3 Pentecost Yr A

3 Pentecost Yr A, 1/06/2008

Matt 7:21-29

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta


“House Building”


Today’s gospel marks the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It is quite instructive for us that at the conclusion of this Sermon, Jesus gives us teachings that are very practical concerning not just speaking the right words but doing the right actions. He also warns all would-be disciples not to be deceived by those who speak well and call attention to their abilities to prophesy, cast out demons and do deeds of power in Christ’s name. There is a word of sober judgement here on such people. There is also a word of warning to listen carefully to Jesus’ words and then act on them. Those who do listen and act in faith are like a wise carpenter who builds on a solid foundation of rock, unlike a foolish carpenter who builds on sand.

The famous Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard once wrote a vivid parable concerning the danger of becoming just a satisfied customer with religion, an occupation so absorbing that it left no inclination to do anything about it.

He imagined that near the cross of Christ had stood a man who beheld the terrible scene, and then became a professor of what he saw. He explained it all.

Later he witnessed the persecution and imprisonment and cruel beating of the apostles and became professor of what he had witnessed.

He studied the drama of the cross, but he was never crucified with Christ in his own life.

He studied apostolic history, but he did not live apostolically.

He was an observer and a talker about Christianity, but not a doer.1

There is an old adage, “When all is said and done, there is a lot more said, than done!” Is this not true of many people in our world today? There are so many “experts” who know a tremendous amount of information about their subject that they have specialized in, but does their information really get translated into actions, to practical doing? In many cases, I think the information gets lost in the “lack of translation” from the theoretical, the academic, to the practical, active, everyday real life of the world.

This is also related to what Jesus has to say about those who say to Jesus: ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Or in modern day language: “Every day a sucker is born. Beware of charlatans who may speak with words of sweetness and light, yet are working overtime to deceive you.”

There are so many charlatans out there—everything from telemarketers on the phone to televangelists on the T.V., to false contractors who prey on seniors promising to do home improvements, to name only a few. Isn’t it interesting that, according to a recent article in The Medicine Hat News Canada is finally cracking down on telemarketers. By this fall, September I believe, Canadian citizens will be able to register and have less pesky telemarketers calling us. I for one am certainly looking forward to that!

In the realm of faith—there surely are no shortage of televangelists out there on T.V. promising things that are rather controversial and questionable. For example, I happened to watch a short advertising blurb by one televangelist lately who promised special blessings on those who would send him money to purchase a handkerchief, which, he claimed, had the power to give blessings. This fake televangelism so insults true Christianity and Jesus himself in that the false televangelists believe they can reduce Jesus to the ability to sell him like any other consumer product for their own personal gain no matter how manipulative and deceitful are their methods as long as it works for them. NO! Jesus soberly warns us today, such folks shall face a hard judgement: “Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”

In stark contrast to this false, charlatan type of faith, Jesus tells the parable of building one’s faith on a solid rock foundation. What kind of house of faith are you building? Are we building on solid rock, Christ our Lord and Saviour, or are we building on sinking sand?

Albert P. Stauderman tells the following story: For many years a man had worked faithfully as foreman of the building crew for a wealthy contractor. The contractor decided to take a long vacation on a world cruise, but before leaving he gave his foreman a set of plans for a dream house. “Build it according to specifications and spare no expense,” he instructed. “I want this to be a good house for a special reason.”

After the contractor had gone, the foreman thought about the many years he had worked for small wages, and he decided that this was the time to make a profit for himself. He cut down on the specifications for the house and substituted cheap material wherever it would not show, pocketing the difference. Then the contractor returned and examined the house. Then he told the foreman, “You have served me well for many years. In reward I have planned this house for you. It is yours, to own and live in.”

Who got cheated?2

Upon what do we build our house, our faith and life? Is it Christ the solid rock or is it sinking sand? There are many things that people invest in—pouring out their time, energy, money and other talents and resources. However, are they lasting or fleeting? Do they satisfy the deepest needs of life? Do they enhance and strengthen life and faith? Do they contribute to the overall health and well being of individuals and society as a whole? Oftentimes those things that are fleeting and fail to strengthen life and faith may very well appeal to folks at first sight; people may benefit from them in an immediate way; however, when people begin to face the storms, earthquakes and floods of life—when the going gets tough such things shall not last nor give strength to life and faith. It is by listening to Christ’s words and then acting on them in faith that give us strength in life and deepen our faith. If we do this, then we shall surely be able to endure any storms, earthquakes, floods and tornadoes that life dishes out.

Scottish entertainer Sir Harry Lauder always left his audiences laughing. But as he came out of a theatre one night, he was handed a telegram informing him that his son had been killed in action. Lauder cancelled his engagements, but three weeks later he was on his way to France to entertain the troops. “When a man has a great sorrow,” Lauder said, “he can turn sour on life, or turn to drink, or turn to God and find joy and hope in doing his will.”3

People of faith who trust in Christ the rock, our solid foundation to build their house, are folks like Sir Harry Lauder—they obey Christ, they listen and then act, and they “find joy and hope in doing his will.” May God grant all of us sufficient grace so to do. Amen.

1 Cited from: Sermon Illustrations For The Gospel Lessons (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1980, 1981, 1982), pp. 20-21.

2 Albert P. Stauderman, Let Me Illustrate: Stories and Quotations for Christian Communicators (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983), p. 107.

3 Ibid. p. 67.